whats on

Miles Hunt of The Wonder Stuff reveals what life was like in the rock band

From being a part-time litter picker to hitting the charts, singer Miles Hunt of The Wonder Stuff reveals what life was like in the rock band. Graham Young reports

Miles Hunt from The Wonder Stuff

Millions of people dream of becoming a rock star and every year a few thousand will repeatedly join forces with strangers in a bid to find the alchemy.

Maverick frontman Miles Hunt made it all the way from Marston Green to Top of the Pops with eighties indie band The Wonder Stuff – and then wondered what the hell he was doing there.

“We would be required to mime in front of an audience of nine-year-olds that were bullied and cajoled into looking like they were enjoying themselves,” Miles recalls.

“The audience were rudely herded about like cattle.

“It was a sickening experience. It felt like a sell-out.”

No wondrous joy there, then.

Light-hearted interviews with teeny bopper magazines he’d never read might have cheered him up, but not with “demoralising” questions like “Boxers or briefs?”

How about the first national radio play of the single Give, Give, Give on Simon Bates’ mid-morning Radio 1 show, Miles?

“It sounded f****** awful... all distortion and compression,” he says.

Cracking the top 40 felt no better from the singer of the Stourbridge-based band with It’s Yer Money I’m After Baby (Record Mirror’s single of the decade).

“I can’t honesty say that it meant a great deal to me,” says Miles.

“I suppose at best I just thought that everything was going to plan for a bunch of ne’er-do-wells that had absolutely no plan whatsoever.”

Even on tour in Europe he still wasn’t sure what he was doing.

After asking his band mates if they were happy, they voted in line with his emotions out of solidarity.

Instead of getting on with the job in hand and going with the flow, The Wonder Stuff pulled out and came home.

In short, no matter how much Miles should have been enjoying the fun side of showbusiness, he had become The Reluctant Rock Star.

And, as had already happened with The Rolling Stones, The Who, AC/DC, Thin Lizzy, The Sex Pistols and Led Zeppelin, the industry would somehow contrive a way to claim the life of a fellow band mate.

Rob Jones, Malcolm Treece, Miles Hunt and Martin Gilks of Wonderstuff.
 

The line-up included Malc Treece (guitar) whom Miles (then a drummer) had known since 1981.

As a 15-year-old with no transport, Miles placed an ad in a Birmingham record shop and ended up with two lads six and four years older from 30 miles away in the Black Country.

For 18 months, Miles played drums with From Eden, becoming lifelong best friends with singer and now leading Hollywood composer Clint Mansell (Black Swan / The Wrestler).

After joining his brother Russ’s band Pop Da Freak, Miles later left home on Live Aid day, July 13, 1985, just two weeks shy of his 19th birthday, to flat share with Clint who then made his name with Pop Will Eat Itself.

Miles tried various musical avenues of his own, before he and Malc ended up in The Wonder Stuff with Martin Gilks (drums), and Rob (Bob) Jones, who called himself The Bass Thing as an alter-ego.

Success was quick and short-lived.

Even by December, 1989 Bob was close to leaving the band, whose last original line-up gig was at the Aston Villa Leisure Centre on Saturday, December 23.

Miles recalls: “Bob was getting a lift to Heathrow Airport the (Christmas Eve) morning after the three Birmingham shows in order to start his new life in New York, a life that would only last another three-and-a-half years.

“We said goodbye to each other by the lift doors in the bar of the hotel on the night of December 23.

“’Tarrah, ya ****,’ he said to me with a kind smile.

“’See ya Bob, take care mate,’ I replied.

“It was the last time we ever spoke to each other.”

Jones’ cause of death is not revealed in the book, but online references veer between poor health and drugs – or a combination of the two.

More than two decades on, The Wonder Stuff Diaries 86-89 recall how ambition clashed with shyness – on top of a roller coaster life of living, loving, eating and drinking on the road.

Even to this day, Miles regrets the type of person the lifestyle made him become – at least until he learned the art of rock star manners from former Jam star Paul Weller.

In 1988 when Walsall seemed to be full of “It’s Yer Money I’m After Baby” posters, Miles was asked for his autograph by a teenage girl only for the unforgiving frontman to reply: “F*** off and grow up”.

“I turned back hoping I might find her to apologise, but she’d gone,” he recalls.

“What I did was inexcusable.

“I had felt overwhelmingly embarrassed whenever I was faced with another human being pointing out my newfound celebrity.

“I had created a loud-mouthed gob-shite persona to hide behind; but my childhood shyness was never far from the surface, I needed a cloak.

“And it was that guy who had been abusive to our young fan, the invented me.”

Later that year, Miles bumped into Polydor label mate Paul Weller in London’s Oxford Street, having never met The Style Council’s frontman before.

“Once or twice, Paul was stopped by his fans,” Miles recalls.

“They mostly apologised for disturbing him.

“On each occasion, Paul simply said: ‘Thanks, that means a lot. Take care of yourself’, or something equally gracious.

“‘Oh’, I thought to myself, ‘That’s how it’s done’.”

The diary only documents four years in the life of The Wonder Stuff, but the dense, typewriter-style text runs to 282 pages and the 9-inch square book feels like a heavyweight tome even without a discography, rock family tree or much-needed index.

The Diaries detail how The Wonder Stuff quickly rose from nothing – and ended up sharing a Reading Festival bill with Iggy Pop and The Ramones.

For Miles Hunt, a part-time 18-year-old litter picker at the NEC turned casual data inputter at Coventry’s dole office – where he used his mundane job as “dream space” – it was the first time he had ever set foot at a festival.

“A band’s singer often carries extra responsibility on a tour,” says Miles.

The Wonder Stuff Diaries 86-89, by Miles Hunt
 

“If that person is tired, ill, hungover or just in a mood, it can blow the show for all concerned.

“As the lyricist, the singer might also be required, night after night to summon up all the emotions with which it took to write the songs, not always happy ones.

“In short, there’s a s*** pile of things on you average singer’s mind.”

Of the Reading experience in August, 1988, Miles says: “I had no idea what to expect, other than we were as likely to be greeted with a torrent of p*** filled cider bottles as rapturous applause.

“Thankfully, we were spared the p***, so I guess we did alright.

“I do remember thinking that I was most definitely out of my depth.

“We were only used to small club stages, but the Reading stage was enormous, with the lighting truss high above our heads and a breeze blowing about us, it was like nothing we had ever encountered.

“Iggy Pop and The Ramones were the main attractions that Friday night. I didn’t see either.”

Similarly, when The Stuffies went touring into Europe and the US, Miles and Co had to find their feet fast.

The band’s debut European tour, in October 1988, coincided with the death of his grandfather.

“He was a sergeant major during the Second World War and while serving in France had taken a hit from a mortar,” says Miles.

“It was one of those nasty little bits of metal that caused his death.

“I had only seen him a couple of weeks before the tour had begun, during a wonderful family dinner at Mom and Dad’s house.

“I remember thinking that afternoon that I’d had my first proper adult conversation with my Granddad.

“We had been discussing the fate of Birmingham’s old Snow Hill Station, both of us agreeing that it would have been lovely if the station had been restored to its former Edwardian glory, at that time it had recently reopened as a nasty unloved concrete carbuncle.”

Once on the tour, the inability to sleep after a show and increased drinking began to take its toll.

Miles recalls: “We didn’t manage to complete that tour.

“After we had played in Munich, I asked if anyone was particularly enjoying themselves.

“It’s a shame that none of my three friends took any opposition to my suggestion of bailing out on the tour, because in my heart I knew that they would all have happily seen it through: it was just me that wanted to go home.

“The one good thing that came of our bad experience in Europe was that I would spend hours in the back of the van scribbling down lyric ideas.

“The words to 30 Years in the Bathroom were definitely inspired by feeling trapped on a tour that I wasn’t enjoying.”

In 1989, the band then went to the US.

“Los Angeles was an utterly soulless, vapid and charmless sprawl of Western society at its absolute worst,” he says of their visit in April that year.

Now based in south Shropshire with violinist partner Erica Nockalls. who plays in the band’s latest line-up, Miles says: “I smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, bite my fingernails.

“For seven barely tolerable years I was a pescatarian (eating fish but not other meat).

“I haven’t smoked cannabis or owned a television for almost 10 years, and can’t help but wonder if the two are related.

“I have never taken a Class A drug, I don’t do ‘shots’.

“I enjoy writing lists and regularly take to re-alphabetising my record and movie collections – all canned and packet goods in my kitchen cupboards face label outwards.

“I am a stickler for detail... and I have changed not a single name to protect the innocent.

“The early years of The Wonder Stuff were fast moving and chaotic, I am forever grateful that I took the time to record the band’s activities and my own feelings about what was happening to us.

“They were written so many years ago that, for me, it is like listening to the voice of a stranger.

“I am now comfortable for anyone with the vaguest of interest to hear it.”

* The Wonder Stuff Diaries 86-89 by Miles Hunt is published this month by IRL (Independent Records Ltd).

View full mobile page